Love skiing but think the slopes are out while you have a baby, until she's a bit older at least? Think again. Chilly Powder can provide your baby’s first ski holiday – at least according to owner Francesca Eyre, who fell in love with the Morzine area more than 20 years ago when she visited to work as a chalet chef. It was also when she met her husband Paul, a quantity surveyor, who had also fallen under the mountains’ snowy spell.Combining their skills, they started their business small, with one five-bedroom chalet in 1995 and within a year had taken on another property. As the business grew so did their family (they have three children), putting them in the perfect position to know what parents really want from a ski holiday. So, in 2001, the couple built their own large chalet hotel, Au Coin du Feu, with the aim of creating a home-from-home atmosphere where guests are welcomed as if they were family.
Keen to check out the ambience and facilities for ourselves, after a short flight from London to Geneva, my partner Thierry and I found ourselves in a Chilly Powder minibus on a 75-minute drive to the hamlet of Les Prodains – and, to our delight, as we drove higher the snow started to fall…
The traditional wooden façade of Au Coin du Feu certainly looks the part, especially as it was covered in a fresh blanket of the white stuff when we arrived. Within, are 16 themed bedrooms designed to suit families of all sizes and stages. Ours was the rather romantic wedding room, with a four poster bed and a huge jacuzzi bath in the room, surrounded by wooden panelling – perfect for easing those aches and pains in after a hard morning on the slopes. The walls were decorated with framed Eyre family wedding photos and invitations, giving the personal touch the chalet does so well.
Au Coin du Feu means 'by the fireside' – apt, as the lofty main lounge and dining area is dominated by a huge central fireplace. It’s the heart of the chalet, where guests gather for homemade cake at afternoon tea, or have a pre-dinner drink in the cosy bar. If you’re looking for some quiet time, the library tucked under the beamed roof and furnished with comfy sofas and chairs has a bounty of books, as well as board games galore and a pool table (during our stay Paul organised a charity knock-out tournament for the adults that Thierry almost won – beaten only by Paul himself!).
But what really makes the chalet perfect for families is the on-site crèche for babies and toddlers of pre-ski age (under-3s). It’s run by a team of qualified and experienced English nannies and is open from 8.45am to 4.45pm Sunday to Friday – childcare can be arranged outside these hours too.
The crèche comes complete with kitchenette, bathroom, sleep room and two play areas separating babies and toddlers. It is also equipped with bottle-warming and sterilising equipment, as well as a fridge and washing machine that parents can access 24 hours a day. Older children can also be entertained there after skiing lessons, as there’s a pool table, table tennis, table football, a Wii and a PlayStation 2.
And don’t worry that your little one will get cabin fever, because, weather permitting, the nannies take their charges outside as much as possible for sledging or snowman-building in the garden, where there are even some resident bunnies who come out to play in warmer weather!
We were admiring our new surroundings, when Doorstep Skis arrived to fit our boots and skis that we’d ordered in advance – so much easier than leaving the comfort of the chalet to do it, especially with children in tow. There is also a heated boot room to keep all your gear safe and dry.
Suited and booted, we were ready to hit the slopes.
Au Coin du Feu is five minutes’ walk from the main, fast, lift to the ski resort of Avoriaz, but if the prospect of lugging all your gear up there every morning fills you with dread, you can always leave your skis in a lock-up in the town (we shared with one of the families from the chalet).
The resort of Avoriaz was the brainchild of Gerard Bremont, the son of a leading French industrialist. Back in the Sixties, Bremont engaged three talented young architects to design the resort and within a few years Avoriaz was proclaimed the ‘Saint Tropez de Neige’ – a centre of jet-set skiing, and the resort retain this chic edge, decades on. And fear not, unlike some other purpose-built ski resorts constructed in that era, Avoriaz is no concrete jungle – the high-rise buildings were designed with acute angles and clad in red cedar so the resort blends in very well with beautiful Alpine surroundings.
The Portes du Soleil ski area covers 13 ski resorts across France and Switzerland, with 650 kilometres of pistes linked by more than 200 lifts. The varied landscape is perfect for all levels of skiers and snowboarders and has beautiful groomed pistes and off-piste runs through the trees and well above the tree line. This was great news for Thierry, an experienced snowboarder relentless in his pursuit of ‘powder’.
The nursery slopes are nearby for beginners – which was great news for me! I’d enrolled in Avoriaz Alpine Ski School, and was delighted to find I was in a class with only a few other novice skiers, which meant our patient instructor Pierre was able to give us all plenty of individual attention. I was expecting to be snow-ploughing down extremely gentle slopes for most of the holiday, but Pierre had a knack of giving his pupils confidence to push themselves, and I was surprised and delighted by how quickly I was able to tackle some gentle blue runs, as well as the easiest greens.
Intermediate skiers, meanwhile, can ski from resort to resort without skiing the same run twice. For the advanced skier there are numerous red and black runs, the World Cup downhill run and, if you are feeling very brave, the famous ‘Swiss Wall’ descent from France to Switzerland.
If tricks and jumps are your thing, there are numerous parks and half pipes throughout the area and in Avoriaz you can practice into an airbag. If you’re intrigued by cross-country skiing and ski touring, Chilly Powder can organise guides to take you into the wilds on randonnee skis with skins so you can ski ‘uphill’ to find untouched trails, should you wish!
Children aged between 4 and 15 can have private lessons, but most of the families staying at Chilly Powder chose to enrol their children in the Village des Enfants in Avoriaz. This is a ‘ski kindergarten’ for children aged 3+ that teaches the basics in a fun environment – I couldn’t believe how soon the little ones from the chalet were whizzing past me on the snow! As the nursery slopes are near the main skiing areas, parents usually drop their offspring off before going on to ski themselves, but the Chilly Powder nannies can also drop children off to their designated ESF instructors, all of whom they know, and pick them up afterwards if necessary. The instructors will only return children to Chilly Powder nannies, all of whom carry an identity card and wear a uniform.
After my lessons I’d rendezvous with Thierry, who’d been off on his snowboard tackling some tricky terrain. Afternoons were reserved for skiing together on some of the easier runs (blue, red and black pistes all end up straight in Au Coin du Feu’s back garden – most convenient!), or relaxing back at the chalet – we particularly enjoyed reclining in the outdoor hottub, drink in hand, admiring the snowscape all around us. Bliss.
What we ate
Guests under the age of 16 all have supper together at 5.30pm – with home-cooked favourites such as spaghetti carbonara and grilled lamb cutlets with potato purée on the menu, along with fresh vegetables, plain pasta, ham and cheese, while apparently the banana sundae goes down particularly well after the children’s exertions in the snow. As the children send so much time together, they are more than happy to play with their new friends for a while, so most parents find they then settle into bed easily, before joining the other adults for around the huge communal table. Dinner was a great chance to get to know each other over three courses of delicious food freshly prepared by the chalet chefs – including succulent lamb cooked in the very embers of the fireplace – and specially selected free-flowing wines. Francesca and Paul often hosted the table, and were able to tell us about the chalet’s history and things to do in the area – we particularly liked the sound of the night sledding in Morzine!
Thursdays are the chalet staff’s night out, so while Chilly Powder arranged a pizza delivery for the children, Thierry and I took advantage of the free bus from Les Prodains into Morzine, to the La Ferme de la Fruitiere restaurant (another building with an impressive roaring fire inside), recommended to us by Francesca. It uses its own dairy produce to make mouthwatering raclette and probably the best ice cream we’d ever tasted.
After walking off the cheese around the charming town (and spying a fair few boutiques, delicatessens and tasteful souvenir outlets that I earmarked for a shopping spree later), we paused to watch night skiers and other intrepid souls on sleds coming down the floodnight main piste into Morzine before hopping in a taxi home.
In softly falling snow, we were happy to return to the chalet’s hearth for a nightcap. The warmth of Chilly Powder’s fireside had melted our hearts (but thankfully not the snow!). We will be back!
Where many resorts seem to just pay lip service to families, Chilly Powder go the extra mile to think of everything – often before you have! They even have a slick app, with lots of maps, GPS tracker and other useful information that you download before your trip – you can even check the weather and live webcams.
Often staying at a chalet means self-catering, so it was luxurious having a three-course meal cooked for us each evening to enjoy in the company of other like-minded parents is another big plus – particularly as they the food always accompanied by fine wines! Having Francesca and Paul (and the rest of the friendly, welcoming staff) around to inform and entertain also add to the personal touch.
Seven nights at Au Coin du Feu costs from £465 half board per person, with discounts for families. Transfers, ski passes and childcare extra, see www.chillypowder.com for details. For details of Doorstep Ski hire, visit www.doorstepskis.com